For three days this month, Indianapolis will be the epicenter of the gun enthusiast world.
Pro-gun musicians Alabama, Joe Nichols and Sara Evans will perform at rallies supporting the Second Amendment. Political superstars Sarah Palin and Marco Rubio will address cheering crowds about protecting gun rights.
An estimated 70,000 people will pack convention halls to inspect the latest firearms, hunting supplies and accessories.
Children and adults will even be able to try their marksmanship on specially constructed indoor air-gun ranges.
The National Rifle Association annual meeting is coming to Indiana for the first time. The meeting is a celebration of gun culture and enthusiasm, mixing the enjoyment people get from the hobby with serious political discussion of personal protection and rights.
It’s an opportunity for NRA members from all reaches of the country to have their voices heard and share in their love of guns together, said Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the National Rifle Association.
“You’re going to see a cross-section of society at any event during this meeting. You’ll see people of all ages, all religious backgrounds, white-collar, blue-collar. It’s a slice of America,” he said.
The annual meeting is the largest NRA event of the year. It is required by the organization’s bylaws and gives a chance for members to discuss the latest gun-related political issues, see the latest firearm and artillery technology and celebrate their interests.
In the past, the meeting has moved to major cities throughout the U.S. — Houston, Phoenix and Pittsburgh.
National Rifle Association annual meeting
When: April 24 to 27
Exhibitor hall hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 25 and 26; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 27
Where: Indianapolis Convention Center, 100 S. Capitol Ave.
Cost: Attendance to the exhibition is free to NRA members. The general public can purchase an associate membership for $10 to attend.
Registration: Registration is required to attend the meeting and events. Hours are 2 to 6 p.m. April 24, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 25 and 26, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 27.
Online registration and more information is available in advance at nraam.org.
But because of the size of the event, only certain locations have the hotels, restaurants, convention center space and transportation infrastructure to meet all of the NRA’s needs, Arulanandam said.
“We’ve outgrown several venues that we’ve utilized in past years, but there are other venues trying to vie to get us to attend. They’re improving, renovating and building venues that can attract an annual meeting of our size. Indianapolis was one of those cities,” he said.
Though dozens of events are scheduled throughout the weekend, three main activities draw the most people, Arulanandam said.
The Leadership Forum will feature speakers Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri.
A members meeting allows people to voice their concerns about gun freedoms and threats to their abilities to bear arms.
“The real strength of the National Rifle Association lies with our members. We’re very lucky to have members who are very politically savvy and committed,” Arulanandam said. “They take an active interest in the welfare of the Second Amendment.”
Country superstars Alabama and Sara Evans will perform at the Stand and Fight Rally, while Palin, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, will be a guest speaker.
On the exhibition floor, more than 600 booths will display the latest firearms and ammunition, clothing and supplies for hunting, shooting club information and everything else enthusiasts are looking for.
At the center of the exhibition hall will be the Pyramyd Air gun range, a chance for participants to test the latest air guns and show off their marksmanship.
“It’s very popular for kids of all ages. You’ll see decades in between the oldest and youngest attendee or person waiting in line to do the range,” Arulanandam said.
While meeting organizers have lined up a weekend full of entertainment and activities, they say the foundation of the event is the urgency to protect Second Amendment rights from eroding. Even among the shooting ranges and concert performances, that’s a goal that NRA members will not lose sight of, Arulanandam said.
“Our focus has always been the effort to preserve the freedom for this generation and future generations,” he said. “It’s what our members stand for, and it’s a duty we take very seriously.”
Q&A: GET TO KNOW JOE NICHOLS
To make it in music for 12 years requires fresh ideas, forward-thinking writing and a willingness to change with the times.
Joe Nichols knew that if he wanted to stay successful and survive, he had to do it all.
“I’m always a country guy, so I lean towards that style. But I wanted to give the fanbase a reason to like me again, give them a fresh perspective of me again,” he said. “We tried to do different things, to maintain the country part of me but at the same time, give people a track that feels like it comes out of 2014.”
Nichols has achieved his goal with his most recent album, “Crickets.” The creator of such hits as “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” “Brokenheartsville” and “The Impossible” has revamped his approach to his music.
The result has been a promising release that has produced one No. 1 song, “Sunny and 75,” with the potential for greater success.
Nichols will headline the sold-out NRA Country Jam IV on April 25, part of the NRA annual meeting being conducted in Indianapolis.
How did you get involved with the NRA Country Jam IV?
They asked if I’d be interested, and I was. I did not grow up with a lot of guns, but as I grew older, and started making a paycheck, I got into target shooting and skeet shooting. I am a gun enthusiast. I’m excited for this event. There are going to be some good-looking guns, and people who know a lot about them.
What brought you to music in the first place?
Money and girls. That’s as honest as I can get. The girls seemed to like the guys who could play music, and the guys who could play sports. I could do both, and I chose music later on when I had to.
What has it meant for you to see the success of this most recent album?
What’s funny, it’s brought my career back. That’s happened more times than I like to acknowledge. Someone pointed out to me recently, ‘You’re like the guy that won’t quit.’ That’s a compliment. I wish it had gone a lot smoother for the past 12 years.
How have people reacted to it?
“Sunny and 75” was a big hit, but it’s set up the next single, “Yeah” which is feeling like an even bigger hit. It’s moving albums and picking up radio play faster than “Sunny” did. And the fans seem to be really, really into it. It’s been a very sporadic, up-and-down kind of career for me. I’d have one hit, then I’d have a couple of things that were duds. So to have what feels like two really big songs in a row, that’s something that I haven’t seen in a long time.
Did you try for a different feel or style with “Crickets”?
I tried to do a lot of things. In doing that, we touched on something that made us look a lot smarter than we were. We took a country vocal and mashed it up with a progressive sound, it came out as a new kind of country for me.
With the whole music-making process, what is your favorite aspect of it?
The only thing that doesn’t feel like work is playing music. I guess that’s my favorite part of it. My ego sure loves the adoration of the crowd, that’s probably not quite healthy, but playing music is the only part that doesn’t feel like I’m running a business?
Q&A: GET TO KNOW SARA EVANS
In the landscape of country music, it can be hard to find a fresh voice or sound.
References to hard-partying, pickup-driving, redneck fun dominate the airwaves.
But to singer Sara Evans, country music can be so much more.
“There are so many of these guys who don’t stand out. You can’t tell one from the other. Every subject is the same — the beer drinking, the partying,” she said. “I grew up on a farm. I’m a small town, rural kid. I’m conservative, old-fashioned values. I drove a two-ton pickup truck to high school. But I don’t think that my music has to reflect that.”
Evans focused on that new approach on her most recent album, “Slow Me Down,” released in March, and it has paid off. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard country album charts, and remains in the top 15.
She has been chosen to perform at the centerpiece event of the upcoming NRA annual meeting, the Stand and Fight Rally, where she’ll share the stage with Alabama.
Why was the NRA annual meeting something you wanted to take part in?
I believe in the right to own guns. It’s an organization I’ve always been drawn to. I haven’t been very outspoken about anything political in quite a while, but I love working with the NRA. They’ve always taken care of me, and they’re top-notch, quality people.
What inspired you to be a musician?
I’ve really never known anything different. My parents started me so young, when I was 4. My older brothers and I, we just decided that’s what we should do. We all had talent, and it grew from there. By the time I was in high school, I was a professional. It’s who I am.
How does your most recent album differ from the one that came before it?
It’s always been the same process and mindset with me. It’s about finding the best songs and writing the best songs. You don’t compromise on anything. If you don’t love the song and you don’t feel it emotionally — no one else has to sing it but you.
What did you hope to achieve with this album?
I think that being authentic has really paid off. People know when it’s a Sara Evans song. When I put something out, country radio sees me as an old friend. There’s a familiarity with me, with my voice and my sound. My goal in this album is to stay even stronger in that mindset.
When a song gets pitched to you, what stands out to you?
It has to say something cool. I know that there has to be a line between making it a commercial success, and if it’s cool. You can do that. You just have to work harder. You can’t just make a rhyme. You have to find the way to rhyme something that’s intelligent.
Are there songs on “Slow Me Down” that stand out to you as your favorites?
Definitely “Slow Me Down.” I chose that to be the first single. I wanted that song to represent me coming out of the box with this album. That says a lot about that song that I wanted it to be the first one I wanted people to hear. But I love so many of these songs.